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Friday, November 16, 2012

I Benefited from Apartheid

Check out the T-shirt slogan gone viral: I benefited  from Apartheid! I want one!
I love the dialogue its provoking because like it or not I, as a white South African, benefited from Apartheid. By virtue of my skin colour I got to go to good schools, I got to have access to good health care, to clean water, I got to live in a nice, water proof house and so the list goes on. Did I choose to benefit from Apartheid? No! Does that mean I should feel guilty? Absolutely not! Does that mean I should support the abuse of BEE policies - certainly not! Does it make me a racist for speaking against some of the ANC policies and actions? Not at all!

However, what this does mean is that I know from whence I come. It means that I have a deep understanding of social inequalities and injustice and therefore have a moral and ethical  responsibility to fight for and stand up for equality - the equality of all persons. But more than that: by acknowledging that I benefited from the past in fact liberates me from the shackles of white guilt! It gives me the integrity and credibility to speak up equality and speak our for social justice. It allows me to say 'This is who I am' and that's OK and you black man are OK too.

So, why is this statement so provocative? I'll tell you why. It's provocative because it hits at the core of white identity. It penetrates through to that part of white identity that still believes that whites are the superior race and that the white way is the right way. That is not to say the white way is the wrong way  thereby making the black way the right way. No, the white way is simply A way and not THE way. But this is to digress.

It is provocative because it is to acknowledge that yes Apartheid was wrong and so on - but more importantly it is to acknowledge that somehow I was complicit in it. That is where it stings. But me? you might say. Surely not?! I'm a good oke and at the first chance I got I voted against it!

So, the difficult and painful thing about this is that by aligning yourself with Apartheid in this way you are left having to question the foundation and truths upon which the world you grew up in was constructed. When you do this you start to find that what you believed in all this time is fundamentally flawed. And you find that the ground you were firmly standing on wasn't so firm after all and you are left falling with no where to go.

If this white identity is built on false principles then who are you? In South Africa this is not an easy question answer. You are not black and you can't be white so where do you go? The society has insisted on keeping these categories giving you no place to go. So you start to think to yourself that yes I'm an African and you try to redefine yourself in these terms to find your place in society. But again you find that the society kicks you out. You're white! they tell you and therefore have no right to call yourself an African. But then you start to wonder who is an African?

In the end you find your entire inner world collapsing. As painful and disillusioning this might be you do have options. You can either stay clinging onto your former white identity and create a world for your self in which you feel secure. I would certainly advise against that but if you so choose I understand. Or if you like you can leave your white identity entirely and become someone else. I don't know - anyone but you will remain shackled. There is however another way. Go on a journey with your pain and find who you are. Find out who your Creator God made you to be. Let your pain show you your brokenness and humanity. Identify with the sufferings of Jesus Christ. When you do these things you will begin seeing the humanity in others. you will find that we need each other to be fully human. In doing so, that guilt, that shame, that fear, that anger and resentment that caged you in will be gone; that ground that fell away will become firm again; and you will be free to enjoy life in a way you never thought possible! Why? All because you decided to admit you benefited from Apartheid and find out who you really are.

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